Thursday, August 15, 2013

Good writing requires reflection

Alice C. Linsley

Much commercial fiction is high on entertainment and low on substance. It is television fiction involving fast-paced action with a minimal drawing of characters and little concern for reflection on matters of importance. This candy tastes sweet, but it leaves you hungry. Many fiction writers make a good living cranking out pulp, but we do well to ask: "Does shallow writing create shallow readers?"

Ben Hecht, American screenwriter and playwright, once admitted, "I’m a Hollywood writer, so I put on a sports jacket and take off my brain." There is a difference between writing that entertains and writing that causes readers to ponder something meaningful.

The creative impulse is like diving into deep waters. A thought or an image calls us to plumb the depths and through exploring what is deep below the surface we find something to write that others want to read.

Often an author’s exploration carries the work beyond the boundaries of common interest and many readers simply won’t follow. The average reader opts for easy reading, so it takes something special to urge them up mountain paths pioneered by the author's imagination.

The fiction writer’s life involves exercising the gray matter not only in though, but also in retrieving memories, experiences and impressions. These are seasoned by a time of reflection just as a stew must simmer for the herbs and spices to blend.

This work hurts my brain, but there is always the chance that what I write may help the reader come upon a vast plain of hope and overcome fear.

The writer's life involves pounding keys, heads, hearts and bones. In Fanny Hurst's words, "It cracks your bones and eats you."

This work is not for the faint heart, the shallow mind, or the nihilist whose lines of thought trail into oblivion. This is not for the eternal pessimist whose disparagement of life brings ultimate deafness.

Writing thoughtfully is a prolonged endeavor that requires charting one's inner frontiers. To the north are my hopes of a better life and a bright aspiration to put away grievance and fear. I know that place by inner sight; the smells and moods. I have scouted the land, marked it and breathed in its freshness. An old oak, with a thick and twisted trunk, stands sentinel on the slope. Because I am acquainted with this place I am able to bring my readers here through carefully chosen words.

The best writing is thoughtful, reflective and focused on things that matter. At best, it also entertains. If we write only to entertain we continue the cycle of shallow writing and frivolous reading. American writers must write with the brain and spend more time in creative reflection.


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